Timeline Of Harley-Davidson History

100 years of the Motor Company

Mr. Harley and the Davidson brothers
In 1903, Mr. Harley and the Davidson brothers unite.Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives

This article was originally published in the June 2003 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser. One hundred years is a long time for any manufacturing concern to carry on, especially a company that manufactures something as nonessential (only practically speaking!) as motorcycles. In fact, of more than 100 companies that produced motorcycles at the beginning of the last century, only one besides Harley-Davidson remains active—and that company (Indian) was shut down for nearly 50 years and has no direct connection to the original firm. Not only has Harley-Davidson survived the century, it has absolutely thrived. One of the most successful motorcycle manufacturers in the world, the iconic Motor Company defines the essential cruiser style, oversees a global marketing juggernaut and has written the classic economic success story of our time. In 2003, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the company, Harley-Davidson has good reason to celebrate.

Take a step back in time and follow the Harley-Davidson timeline:

1903: William Harley and the Davidson brothers (Walter and Arthur) build their first motorcycle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

V-twin engine
The first V-twin engine.Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives

1909: Harley-Davidson introduces its first V-twin engine.

The Knucklehead
The Knucklehead was debuted in 1936.Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives

1936: Harley-Davidson's first overhead-valve engine, the Knucklehead, is debuted this year. H-D is one of only two American motorcycle makers to survive the depression (Indian is the other).

Military men on motorcycles during World War II.Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives

1941–45: Harley-Davidson manufactures more than 90,000 motorcycles for use by the U.S. Military and its Allies during WWII.

XL Sportster
Harley’s XL Sportster.Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives

1957: The XL Sportster model is introduced.1965: Harley-Davidson's first public stock offering.

FX Super Glide
The FX Super Glide was the company’s first “factory custom.Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives

1971: The Introduction of the FX Super Glide model—the Motor Company's first "factory custom" and precursor to models like the present-day Softail Deuce.

Harley-Davidson’s senior management team
In 1981, these 13 gents purchased the company from AMF.Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives

1981: Thirteen members of Harley-Davidson's senior management team purchase the company from AMF in a leveraged buyout.

Evolution engine
The Evolution engine was introduced in 1984.Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives

1984: Introduction of the Evolution V-twin engine; also the debut of the first Softail model.

1986: Harley-Davidson returns to public ownership, with stock trading at $11 per share at its IPO.

Buell
Buell was acquired by Harley-Davidson in 1998.Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives

1998: Harley-Davidson acquires Buell; more than 100,000 enthusiasts travel to Milwaukee to celebrate the Company's 95th birthday.

V-Rod
The Motor Company’s V-Rod featured Harley’s first liquid-cooled engine in 2001.Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives

2001: The V-Rod, equipped with Harley-Davidson's first-ever liquid-cooled engine, is released.

2003: The Motor Company celebrates its 100th anniversary with a year-long, worldwide birthday celebration.